By Ros Satar
(June 8, 2013) PARIS – How does Maria Sharapova solve a problem like Serena?
The answer is she doesn’t, at least not today as the head-to-head between them grew to 14-2, when Serena Williams regained the title she won back in 2002 6-4, 6-4.
It perhaps feels uncharitable to say that there was an air of inevitability around this final.
After all, the numbers do not lie and at best people wanted the match to be competitive at least, especially those who remember the London 2012 Olympic Final.
It is always a challenge to defend a title and Maria Sharapova certainly made her intentions clear at the start of the match, gritting her way to defending four breakpoints, before breaking Williams in the next game.
But of course, the world No. 1 was not standing for that – with the first set a bizarre see-saw of breaks and clutch points and “come-on’s” from them both.
If Sharapova was going to make her claim to defend her crown, it really had to be here to put Williams under pressure from the start.
You just had the feeling, though, that it was taking every ounce of effort from Sharapova to stay in contention, so it was no surprise when Williams served out for the first set, having nudged ahead again.
The second set started in much the same way, with a long protracted hold and the saving of many break points (again) from Sharapova.
Even though it came down to a single break at the start of the second set, Sharapova never stopped fighting, but Williams stepped up a gear, firing down three aces to start and finish the last game, and with it gaining her second Roland-Garros title, and her 16th Grand Slam title.
She now holds the most slam titles of any active player, and the sixth of all time, as well as becoming the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam in the Open Era – it may be impolite to refer to a lady’s age but just for the record, it’s 31 years, 256 days by the tournament end date.
Having nothing to defend here after her first round loss was a key for Williams today.
“I played so well leading up to the French Open last year ‑ and same thing happened again this year ‑ but I didn’t put any pressure on myself,” Wiliams said.
Sharapova had pointed out that Williams was serving harder that tomorrow’s finalist David Ferrer.
“I think growing up with Venus, you know, she’s serving so big, I was like, I want to serve big, too,” she said.
“So I think this definitely really helped me a lot. Again, I am not the tallest girl on tour, but I definitely think I use my height in a very effective way, and I use it to the fullest of my ability.”
Seated alongside the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, Williams admitted her had been very nervous in serving for the match.
“I thought, I’m not going to be able to hit groundstrokes. (Laughter.)
“No joke. As you see the one groundstroke I did hit went like 100 feet out.
“I thought to myself, Look, Serena, you’ve just got to hit aces. That’s your only choice.”
Of course having been on the receiving end of those, it was an obviously reflective Sharapova who faced the press later.
“I think getting to the Roland-Garros final is not too shabby, so I’d say that’s a positive. Coming back as a defending champion, I know it’s never easy to come back with that title, so I’m happy that I was able to produce good tennis within these last two weeks and come to that stage.”
To reverse a trend of losses against Williams dating back to 2004 is obviously a work in progress (to put it mildly), but today showed that Sharapova could go toe-to-toe with her.
“Some of the results against her last year were not so good. But the match in Miami and the match here, I think I’m doing a few more right things than maybe I have done in the past, yet obviously not consistent enough.”
We are only half way through the season, with Wimbledon coming up, so Sharapova could at least look ahead.
“It’s always the one that I always want to perform well at and the one that I always look forward to.
“It’s not like I really need someone to give me motivation towards that.”
If age is just a number now to Serena, and a new number was reached today (16 Grand Slam titles), then does she have her eye on the next prize?
“If it means I stop at 16 or if it means I have more, I definitely want to continue my journey to get a few more.”
Roll on Wimbledon and the US Open.